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Story Highlights

  • As Jamaica marks the 27th anniversary of Hurricane Gilbert which devastated the island on September 12, 1988, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) believes that the country has become more versed in disaster risk management.
  • Acting Director of Information and Training at ODPEM, Cheryl Nichols, says in the ensuing years since Gilbert, the government has sought to ensure that agencies involved in disaster preparedness and mitigation, have implemented systems to strengthen the country’s resilience to any serious hurricane damage.

As Jamaica marks the 27th anniversary of Hurricane Gilbert which devastated the island on September 12, 1988, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) believes that the country has become more versed in disaster risk management.

Acting Director of Information and Training at ODPEM, Cheryl Nichols, says in the ensuing years since Gilbert, the government has sought to ensure that agencies involved in disaster preparedness and mitigation, have implemented systems to strengthen the country’s resilience to any serious hurricane damage.

“Since the passage of Gilbert we have had the development of a National Disaster Plan…within the national plan, there is also a hurricane sub plan that guides procedures for pre and post hurricane activities while outlining the roles and functions of the various agencies,” Miss Nichols tells JIS News in an interview.

She informs that ODPEM has conducted training sessions to educate persons in various sectors on how to operate effectively during hurricanes, and to minimize the strain on resources. She also notes that at the local authority level, there has been greater sensitization and awareness building, as well as the development of an evacuation plan.

According to Ms. Nichols, ODPEM has had a “more robust public education programme aimed at various levels.”

She says the agency, has also seen an improvement in the National Shelter Programmes “to ensure that not just the facilities but (also) those who serve our shelters as our shelter management team, are taken care of.”

She points out that “there is a structure that looks at training persons, making persons aware of what are some of the issues that they should anticipate while operating within shelter environment.”

In 1988, Hurricane Gilbert was the first hurricane in 37 years to hit Jamaica, and it is still considered as the most overwhelming. Gilbert placed a strain on many resources such as electricity, shelter, health care, food and even transportation.

According to ODPEM, Jamaica incurred approximately $3 billion worth of damage. All major sectors were affected; however, agriculture and livestock bore the brunt of the damage which amounted to $769 million. This was followed by the housing sector amounting to$558; tourism $431 million; educational institutions $55 million; and road damage amounting to $38.3 million.

Heather Campbell was 18 years old at the time of Hurricane Gilbert and still recalls how unprepared she was for the hurricane.

“When Gilbert was coming everybody was saying it’s not coming, we were far less prepared then. My responsiveness capacity has increased by at least 70 percent. When I hear that a storm is coming now, I stock up, try to get water, batteries, candles and the necessary food supply,” she tells JIS News.

She says her level of awareness has definitely increased and attributes it to the amount of information that she now receives from various government agencies. “We are leaps and bounds ahead in terms of the technology and our early warning systems compared to 1988,” she believes.

During the hurricane season the best protection is preparedness, as natural disasters such as hurricanes cannot be prevented.

The ODPEM websites has information about disaster preparedness, what to do during and after, where to go how to recover and where to receive help along with other supporting information.

Jamaica has two rainy seasons: May, and October through November. The hurricane season, officially lasts from June 1 to November 30.